The best chiles rellenos are a dream of melted cheese within a meaty, soft Poblano pepper cloaked in airy egg-white batter covered in fresh tomatillo sauce.
I maintain that it’s difficult to find really good chiles rellenos in most Mexican restaurants around here. Making them involves a number of steps, and short-cuts can ruin the dish. Over the years, I’ve been served chiles rellenos that bummed me out, with tough unpeeled peppers, a thick clump of cold cheese, heavy, eggy batter tasting of the frying oil, and canned sauces. Abominations!
To get the best chiles rellenos, I had to make them at home. I’ve made them so many times, I no longer use a recipe. This is the process.
I broil the poblanos directly on a rack placed at highest level. Beneath them place a pan of water. The water adds steaming action, and catches any liquid that might be released from the pepper, and makes cleaning the pan easier.
When the peppers are blistered and wrinkled on all sides, put them in a bowl and place a plate over the top. Let them sit. The steam will make removing the skin easier. After the peppers cool, slip the skins off the peppers. Make a slit in the side of the pepper and use a spoon to extract the seeds. This part is a pain in the ass. But there’s no getting around it. Don’t use water to remove the seeds, and do not rinse the peeled peppers. It’ll take away flavor.
And don’t worry if your peppers start to split in the process of removing the seeds. You’ll still be able to wrap even the most delicate and shredded pepper around the cheese, and once it’s coated in batter and fried, it will all hold together.
To fill the peppers, I get rather Californian. I can’t help it. I spent a significant number of childhood years in Southern California. I used to put Monterey Jack in the peppers. My husband was mystified by my fondness for this bland white cheese, and my protestations that it melted well were met with a kind smile. Since then, I’ve switched to white Cheddar. I use the Cabot Creamery Brand.
I don’t use authentic Mexican cheese for the peppers. And truth be told, that’s why I like my homemade chiles rellenos best. The soft white cheese used in authentic Mexican restaurants often doesn’t reach the true melted ooze that I love.
Here’s a tip on stuffing the chiles. First cut the cheese in long thin strips. They are much easier to get into the peppers than messy shredded cheese. Next, dust them or roll them in flour before putting them in the batter.
The batter is mostly egg-whites, whipped to stiff peaks, with one egg yolk added. A little flour can also be added. Use a slotted spoon to place a stuffed pepper in the bowl of fluffy batter, spoon some of the batter over the top and lift out and put into a sizzling hot pan.
Brown the pepper packets on each side, remove to a paper towel or brown paper.
My favorite sauce is green tomatillo sauce. I husk the tomatillos, and cook them whole in boiling water for about five minutes until they soften up. I use an immersion blender to puree the tomatillos, cilantro (with the stems) raw onion, garlic and hot green peppers. You can cook this sauce or leave it raw, depending on how mellow or fresh you want the flavors.
Pour sauce into the bottom of a casserole and place peppers in the sauce. Spoon sauce over the peppers. Add a little water to the pan before covering it with tin foil and placing in a 350 degree oven. Heat until the sauce is bubbling.
There’s no denying that making chiles rellenos is a lot of work. So, where do I go to find good ones?
Los Poblanos in Norwalk. The chiles have that slippery, melt-in-your mouth texture, with mellow cheese contrasting with the heat from the pepper and freshness of the sauce. Chef-owner Jaun is from Puebla, considered the culinary capital of Mexico. He cooks the traditional food of his homeland. Here’s a piece I wrote about Los Poblanos for CTBites.
Every fall Los Pobalanos serves chiles en nogata. These are very special chiles. They’re filled with a mixture of pork, fruits and spices. The creamy walnut sauce is topped with glistening pomegranate seeds.
In Bridgeport, El Paraiso also makes very good chiles rellenos. I didn’t cover the chiles rellenos in my review for the Hartford Courant, but I tried them recently, and enjoyed them. Here’s a link to My Favorite Ethnic Restaurants in Bridgeport.